Woods With Friends


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There is nothing better than enjoying God’s magnificent creation with friends.  Even better is rolling through God’s green (and a bit yellow with mixed reds/oranges) wonder.. fast.  This past weekend I joined my friends Mike, Mike, and Jon for a jaunt through the twisting, undulating (cool word, eh?) dirt mountain bike trails of Brown County State Park, Nashville, Indiana.  Brown County boasts some of the best singletrack dirt trails in the Midwest, a designation that my friends and I heartily endorse.


Mike L, Steve the Big Orange Blob, and Mike B

This was my fifth trip to Brown County with Jon — the first trip there was one of my first real mountain bike excursions.  That first year was eye opening, my awe evident to Jon and our friend, Jim, who both love introducing the sport to friends.  Brown County had been an annual trip each Fall for my two friends, a tradition that Jon and I have continued.  Jon and I coaxed my friend Mike into going with us two years ago, easily hooking him to the rush of the trails.  Last year we introduced Frank to Brown County.. he was almost in tears as he had to announce earlier this week that his boss had asked him to forego the trip in lieu of a work trip.

Jon brought along his friend, Mike B, for this trip, an enthusiastic intermediate level rider who immediately expressed his joy as we entered the woods to begin our two days of riding on Thursday morning, starting at the “bottom” of the park from the north entrance parking lot of Brown County State Park.  That portion of the trail, the Pine Loop, begins by winding up a beautifully wooded ravine then through a sweet smelling pine forest, emerging to cross a small wood bridge into a fast flow trail.  Pine Loop is a smooth beginner trail with enough twists, turns, climbs, roots, and rocks to give a preview of what is to come.  We had already taken a 7 mile warm up loop while Mike B was on a work conference call from his car in the parking lot, so the three of us were able to give him a nice fast intro to the trail.  Of course, Mike B had a very interesting crash later on while riding the Walnut trail, something he recorded from his GoPro camera mounted below his handlebar.  The link is below.  Somehow, he came out of that scary crash as enthusiastically as he had approached our ride all day, with a laugh and a smile.  We all were really glad that Mike B joined us this year!  His crash became the talk of the rest of our trip.

Our first day found us grinding the climbs before flying (literally.. both tires were off the ground a ton during the descents on that trail) the Green Valley trail, grunting the climbs over the roots and rocks of the Hesitation Point trail.. to be treated to a spectacular view at the top, then the rush of the advanced skill level Walnut trail.  We reached the top of the park after another screaming rush riding the flowy Limekiln trail to the campgrounds.  At the campground, we met up with three other friends who rode back down through Limekiln and Walnut with us to Hesitation Point.  Those three rode back up to the campground to get cleaned up for dinner while we rode back down the Hesitation Point trail to Aynes and back to the north gate parking lot.

Mike L and I decided to ride our bikes from the trail head to the hotel where Mike B and Jon met us.  All said, our first day was nearly 40 miles of dirt trail riding.


All retreated to our rooms, exhausted but extremely satisfied, the showers bringing us back to life.  We met the three from the campground at the Big Woods brewery in Nashville, closed out the restaurant, sharing stories from our trail rides that day as well as ride stories of the past.

The next morning I woke amazingly refreshed, a bit sore from the previous day’s ride, but ready for another few hours of riding.  After all, riding was our reason for our trip.  None of us are partiers.  We wanted to ride as much as possible.  After a breakfast of sausage and fake scrambled eggs in the hotel lobby, we left Jon’s van at the hotel, rode into the park for more riding.  Our ride started from the Pine Loop trail again, maybe even more sweet smelling in the morning dew.  From there the boys coaxed me to ride the North Tower Loop trail, a ride that starts with two miles of grinding, albeit low grade, twisty climbing.  My legs were sore.  I didn’t want to start with climbing.  But I was glad to be talked into riding and leading out on that trail.  I was the fastest descender in the group, the climbs warming me up nicely so that when we reached the down and tight turning section of the North Tower Loop trail, I left my friends in the dust, waiting for them with a huge grin at the end of that trail.  We ventured back to the Green Valley trail for more roller coaster riding, then climbed to Hesitation Point.

20161016_174036From there, we decided to take the park road to the Bobcat Bowl trailhead, a double black diamond expert trail, half of the trail newly finished a week before our visit.  Bobcat Bowl is very narrow, following ridges over a whole lot of rocks and roots, with challenging switchbacks that threaten to throw your bike off the trail into the ravine.  It’s also one of the most scenic trails in the park.. so wonderful.  At one point, I had to walk a small section of trail that was probably three feet wide with a sheer drop off on my left.  I am afraid of heights!  The trail starts with a challenging, rocky switchback that leads to off camber, narrow dirt trails.  It is a fun trail, but I found myself wishing I lived close enough to learn to ride Bobcat Bowl properly.  I rode the first half very well, fast enough to take a break in the middle to wait for my friends to catch up.  Once we got to the newly finished portion of Bobcat, where it begins to wind up the side of very tall ravines, I fell behind and had to walk some sections.  We were a few hours into our ride and I was beginning to show some wear.  Plus, I am heavier right now than I have ever been and it began to show in the climbs.


Here I am getting ready to negotiate a tight turn on Bobcat.

We finished the day by riding back down through the Aynes Loop.  At the end, I found my second wind, leading us back to the park, forcing a large group of slower riders to give up the trail to us, allowing us to pass.  We sprinted for the old covered bridge at the entrance to the park, then rolled back up the highway to our vehicles at the hotel.

I want to go again next week.  It was that good!

If you have some time and want to get an idea of what the Walnut trail riding was like our first day, here is Mike B’s video.  I am the orange guy at the beginning and the end.  At 4:39, you will be treated to Mike’s end over into the ravine!

I Am An Adult


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Yesterday, I chose to be an adult.  It doesn’t happen often.  A little of the choice happened by accident, by circumstance.  I bought new tires for my mountain bike Friday evening on the way home from a ride, in a rush, and didn’t buy new tubes (I should go tubeless).  While changing tires, I punctured the tube.  Sooooooo, Saturday morning, I had to wait for the bicycle shop to open before I could fix the flat tire.  Thus, I made an adult choice as a result.

I actually did my chores before riding.  Usually, I ride then chore.  After all, playing is far more important and most the time I have enough energy left after playing to work.  The bicycle shop opened early, so I had new tubes in hand by 8:30 AM, but instead I went home without riding.  The lawn was mowed, trimming done, driveway edged and cleaned, then the asphalt sealed.

By 2 PM, I was done with chores.  Time to play.  And I did.  15 miles of dirt single track, enough to work out the soreness from the chores as well as work out the tightness from the previous two days of riding.

It was a beautiful weekend here in Chicagoland.  Stevie played.  I tried to take a rest day today, but the weather was just too nice to waste.  More singletrack this afternoon.

I am tired.  My muscles are pleasantly worn out.  With my annual mountain bike trip with my friends coming this Thursday and Friday, this weekend will have helped get me ready.

That’s right… more play for Stevie is coming SOON!

Mud Mud Go Away


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It wasn’t as painful as I thought it was going to be.  All day I thought about it, tried convincing myself that I used to do it every day, religiously, almost to the point of addiction.  Really it is not something terrible, not at all, I just have found something so much better.

Besides, I don’t rock spandex like I used to.

Tentatively, I mounted the old titanium steed.  I wasn’t quite sure that I remembered what it was like to ride a road bike.  Would I make mistakes?  Maybe I would fall over?  Looking at the tight bib shorts, I almost felt exposed, my man bits displayed for all to see.

Man bits.  Yes.  I said that.

Stepping into the Look pedals was a bit (not man bit) awkward at first.  The SPD cleats that I used with my mountain bike pedals are smaller, a simple step in.  If you don’t hit a road pedal with the cleat at the proper angle, it doesn’t always engage cleanly.

Dealing with drivers also took some getting used to again.  After a mile, a driver passed me on the left as I was entering an intersection, then turned right immediately in front of me, the car leaning so much into the turn that the tires were squealing.  I do not miss interactions with cars and rude drivers.  Not at all.

I maintained a respectable 18 mph average for 15 miles.  Not terrible.  I could do this again, but, well, the trails will not be muddy tomorrow….

No Cardinal Sin



20160924_115408The Cardinals beat the Cubs today, 10-4 at Wrigley.  To say that witnessing the rout was glorious is an understatement.  With today’s win, the Cardinals moved back into a tie for the second National league wild card spot and stayed in contention for the rapidly approaching playoffs.  They also avoided the pain of witnessing the Cubs celebrate their 100th win of the season, stuck at 98 wins with only more game to play against the Cardinals this season (tomorrow night).  It’s also the Cubs last home series of the season, meaning that they won’t be able to celebrate before their home crowd.

This may seem cruel and selfish, but…. YEAH!!!!!!

Don’t get me wrong.  As a resident of the Chicago area, even though I am a Cardinal fan for life, I am glad that the Cubs are having their best season ever.  They seem to be poised to go all the way to the World Series this year.  I just don’t want them to celebrate in front of my Cardinals.

And it would be so sweet if the Cardinals get to play spoiler in the playoffs.  For once, the Cardinals are not the first place team, not expected to be the contender.  Usually it is me listening to Cub fans taunting me, jealous of my good fortune as a baseball fan.

I took Nate to Wrigley today to watch the game, our once a year splurge, I in my Cardinal jersey and Nate in his Cub jersey.  People get a kick out of seeing the father/son rivalry.  We had great seats today, right behind the Cardinal bull pen in right field.  Today’s first pitch was at noon, overcast with the stadium lights on, comfortably cool.  The sun came out by the third inning, our seats out in the sun.  Wonderful.

Days like today are when Nate and I get along best.  Oh, he still acts like a 17 year old with his dad, but he also forgets to act that way as he relaxes in the moment.  We don’t get into deep discussions, but it’s nice to just have time with him for a day.

You won’t see any pictures of me with him here.  There is no way he would allow that.  He also was mortified as I photo bombed three women Cub fans as they posed for a picture.  We were walking up to our seats and I just stepped in.  The women laughed and allowed me in the picture.  Nate was also mortified when they sat directly behind us.

The Cardinals led off with four runs in the top of the first.  The Cubs answered with two runs of their own.  But the Cardinals kept scoring each inning, the Cubs did not.

Good day.  I was in a good mood on the way home after a Cardinal win, bought Italian beef (Buona) for Nate, his first experience with the delicacy.

I also wore my Cub kryptonite today.  No Cub fan gives me any guff when I wear one of my Cardinal World Series hats!fb_img_1474748498849

Tater Tonight



It seems as though I have earned a couch potato evening.  Heck, I even came home to warm food waiting for me.  The food was frozen pizza, but at least it was food.  I am accustomed to making my own dinner most nights.  The past week and a half has found me on a bicycle nearly every day.  With shorter days comes a little bit of urgency to get rides in while the clock runs out on the riding season.  I have been taking my mountain bike with me to work, zipping to the trails as soon as quitting time comes.

It doesn’t hurt that the weather has cooperated.  There hasn’t been much mud lately.  With my injured calf muscle nearly healed, I am riding like this whole riding thing is a new thing to me.  This past weekend found me happy that I could finally push myself harder, although a mechanical put a damper on that a little bit.  Let’s just say that my seat was suddenly prone to moving suddenly back  in the middle of a sharp drop — and I got tired of getting goosed.  No amount of tightening the seat bolt would solve the problem.  Finally, I took the seat off and looked at the seat post clamps.  They turned out to be the culprit, the front of each clamp worn slightly smooth.  My local bike shop mechanic took a look, moved each clamp to the opposite side, added some compound that is normally used to keep carbon components from slipping, and the problem was fixed.  Monday night, I had one of the most glorious rides I have had in quite a while — fast, agile, and in perfect weather.  During the course of the ride, I caught and passed at least three riders.  Funny, at the beginning of the ride I felt sluggish, but somewhere along the trail a switch flipped and I felt great.

Tonight I need to rest and also need to tend to responsibilities.  I need to pay bills.  For once, it looks like I have enough to pay everything and have money left when everything is paid.  YES!!!!  And I received an insurance settlement check from my auto accident at the beginning of the year.  When the bills from that accident are paid, I am going to have money left.

It is so tempting spend that extra money on a bike.  I won’t.  But it is tempting!



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It has been a week of revival for me.  After weeks of near mindless inactivity, I am able to ride again without worry of damaging my injured calf muscle.  Labor day, I tried out single track by riding a short ride, not pushing hard and my calf wrapped tightly.  The muscle passed, although I could feel the knot where the muscle is torn, reminding me that all is not yet right.  On cue, the muscle swelled with a vengeance, complaining about the exertion that I subject it to.

This week found me a little more than four weeks past the injury, a critical point, itching to test it out some more.  I packed my mountain bike onto the back of my car Sunday morning with the hope of rolling some dirt after church.  Patience rewarded me, although I had to find a place to change once I reached the trails, public nakedness exposed briefly as I changed into my bike shorts in a remote cul de sac close by the trail head.  I managed to ride at a good but not full effort for a little over an hour, cut short by a sagging rear shock and under inflated rear tire.  My pedals were scraping in the low spots, a sign that something was not right.  It felt great to ride again, nonetheless.

Tuesday, I raced home from work, ready for another dirt ride.  I went to get my mountain bike from the garage, discovered a flat tire on the rear wheel.  Duh.  That was part of the clearance problem on Sunday.  The flat was fixed quicly, but for some reason the through axle would not catch for close to an hour.  Once I finally got it to catch, daylight was waning.  I drove to the trails any way, managing an hour of riding despite low light.

I am riding again.  That is all that matters.

Last night, more single track, this time at near 100% effort.  I feel like a stud again.

Yes, I am a stud.

20160915_192106It’s a beautiful evening.  Time to kick back, hope for dry trails this weekend.  I took tonight off, just enjoying the weather out on my back deck, grilled brats and a brew.

Heaven could be now.  Mountain bike in cool weather.  Evenings with a book.

Back In Pad


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♫Back in pad
I hit the saddle
I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back
Yes, I’m let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I’ve been looking at the sky
‘Cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse ’cause I never die
I got nine lives
Cat’s eyes
Cruisin’ every one of them and running wild
‘Cause I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back, back
Well, I’m back in pad
Yes, I’m back in pad
Back in the back
Of a mountain bike
Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack
Yes, I’m in a bang
With a gang
They’ve got to catch me if they want me to hang
‘Cause I’m back on the track
And I’m beatin’ the flack
Nobody’s gonna get me on another rap
So look at me now
I’m just makin’ my play
Don’t try to push your luck, just get out of my way
‘Cause I’m back
Yes,… ♫
Four weeks with very little turn of the pedals and when I did, I had to spend an hour or two with ice on my calf muscle, elevated above my heart.  Every time I did even a mild spin, my leg and foot swelled to Big Trouble In Little China proportions.
2016-rando-previewI rode Saturday, 30 something miles with several friends, testing out the route for an upcoming taco ride (Rando de Taco).  We rode a real comfortable pace from taco stand to taco stand, rating the tacos and deciding if that taco stand was worthy to be on this year’s route.  Six riders having a blast.  Mir and Nate went out to the city for the evening, leaving me open to socialize some more, so I joined my taco riding friends for a brew at a craft brewery (Solemn Oath in Naperville, Illinois), then dinner.
It really wasn’t what I had in mind for a Saturday ride, but Friday night and Saturday morning was a consistent heavy rain.  Much to my chagrin, I could not ride singletrack.  I rode with friends instead.
Sunday was gorgeous — and over an hour on singletrack at 75% effort.  I nearly held my usual average of 12.3 mph for the ride, but I chose not to push it too hard.  My injured calf responded favorably, did not swell when the ride was finished.
I’m back in pad(ded shorts).

Down The Hatch or Down the Drano


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This may be a story that I have told here before.  If I have and you remember it, sorry.  Good thing is that I tell this story a little differently each time, although the specific details are the same.

My mother was good about teaching my brothers and I to be responsible for ourselves.  We cleaned our own room, made our beds, cleaned our bathroom, washed our clothes (and folded them, put them away), vacuumed the rugs, picked up after ourselves.  I am the oldest of three boys and, once I reached an age where I was able to put gas in a push mower and negotiate our yard with the mower, care of the lawn became my job.  Dad still likes to mention that he never had to mow after I was 8 years old, except for when he just wanted to do it.  My brothers and I also were responsible for waking up in time for school, dressing ourselves, and getting ourselves either to the bus stop or walking to school.  That also meant that we prepared our own brown bag lunch.  Mom made sure there was bread and fixings, as well as chips or whatever else we needed — as long as we put in the request for what we needed for our lunches when she prepared her weekly grocery list.

Lunch got me in trouble.  The high school that I attended was fairly small, roughly 400 students for freshman through senior grade levels.  Our building consisted of two long hallways lined with lockers, with a commons area in between that opened into a courtyard.  Across the courtyard was the shop area where trade classes were taught, as well as the main gym and lunch room building.  My locker was located at the end of the long hallway, next to the main doors that led outside to the courtyard, the doors that many students took to and from the gym or lunch or shop class.  It was also next to the band room, the reason my locker was at the end, since I was a band student (trumpet players are the best kissers, as I have been told by more than one young lady).

My locker was in a perfect spot for those less than honest students, who were inclined to steal.  Three days in a row, my lunch was stolen out of my locker, a big deal to me since it was during track season.  I needed my nutrition for after school practices and meets.  For my lunch, I started keeping it with my band instrument in the band room — not always convenient as the band room often was locked for my lunch period.  My teen mind did not want to report the thefts to the school principal, the most logical thing to do.

So, one morning I decided that the solution would be to make two lunches — one that I would eat and one that was doctored.  In typical teen fashion, I was trying to work this out quickly and at the last minute before I had to leave for school, while I was making my lunch.  I spread one piece of bread with a thick layer of peanut butter, the other with an equally thick layer of grape jelly (Mom always lamented how fast we went through jars of peanut butter and grape jelly).  Hmmmmm… what else needed to go on the sandwich?

“Mom, do we have any ExLax?”  Mom furrowed her brows at me with an expression of mild confusion, an expression she gave to me frequently.  Funny thing is that she knew better than to ask why, which she should have done.  She just said no and carried on with her own task.

I took the task of finding a way to doctor that sandwich into my own hands, utilizing the do it yourself and take responsibility my mother had instilled in me.  What to use?  I searched the bathroom medicine cabinet, the logical place since maybe Mom had just forgotten about the ExLax.  None.  In the vanity under the bathroom sink, I found what seemed to be the solution.  I didn’t think about the solution being potentially criminal.  I just thought that the lunch perpetrators would see this substance and be deterred.  That should work, right?  I carried that can of crystal Drano (that’s drain cleaner) to the kitchen, poured a layer of the large blue crystals on top of the peanut butter, slopped some more peanut butter over the Drano, slapped the jelly laden slice of grape jelly on top, wrapped the PBDranoJ sandwich, and put it into a paper bag.


I find out part of the result by third class period.  In between classes, I was slammed up against my locker by an angry Gary Ayers, a fellow senior who had discovered the benefits of weighlifting, one of the largest guys in the school.

“What did you put in your lunch?” he yelled, fists balled in a threat.

I know I was grinning.  “I have no idea what you are talking about, Gary.”

Gary’s girlfriend, Janet, had eaten my lunch before gym class, according to Gary’s story.

“How did she get my lunch?”  Once again, I know that there was a wide grin on my face.

Gary raised a large fist, intended to punch that grin off of my face.  Before he could deliver, a few of my friends stepped in between, allowing me to escape and get to class.  This would not be over, I knew, but at least the mayhem was delayed.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of Gary, but I didn’t want to be suspended from school for fighting.  There was only one track meet left in the season, it was my senior year and I did not want to miss that meet.

Fifth period.  Principal Bill Hinrichs appeared at the classroom door, motioned for me to join him out in the hall.  He was shaking his head with an expression that was between amusement and disbelief.  Mister Hinrichs was that type of person, a math teacher before becoming school principal, one of my favorite teachers.  I had done very well in his classes, had also done well a few years before when I played basketball for the team he assisted as coach.  As he escorted me to his office, he continued to shake his head every time he glanced at me.  When we arrived at his office, he offered me a seat across from his desk, next to the school nurse who was waiting for us.

He went straight to the point.  “Steve, what did you put on your sandwich?”

I looked him straight in the eye, told him exactly what was on the sandwich.

The school nurse gasped.  Mister Hinrichs simply rested his forehead on his hand while shaking his head some more and muttering Henrikson over and over.

Three girls stole my lunch on their way out the door to gym class.  They had a master key to the lockers, so they were able to get to it easily.  As they waited for roll call before gym class, they split the sandwich.  They didn’t see the crystal Drano.  I had done too good of a job concealing it in the thick layers of peanut butter and grape jelly.  They never had a chance to swallow their bite of sandwich, their mouths instantly foaming and slight burns on their tongues as they spit the sandwich out.

I am fortunate that I attended a small school where teachers and administrators had the chance to know their students and their families.  There was no police involved, just a school nurse gasping in shock and a relieved/amused/amazed school administrator.

“You do know, Steve, that this could have been much worse.”  Mister Hinrichs told me the names of the three girls, “Every one of those girls has a big boyfriend.  These girls stole your lunch, so essentially they got what they deserved but GEEEEEEEEZ couldn’t you have used something else?  ExLax maybe?”

Mister Hinrichs actually laughed when I calmly responded with the obvious answer — we didn’t have any ExLax.  I had checked.

“Really, I wouldn’t do anything to you at all since this was a case of theft, but I also don’t want a fight to deal with.  I have called your mom and she knows that you are coming home right now.  You are going to be suspended for three days.”

That meant I would miss the last regular season track meet.  That hurt, but I didn’t argue.  I knew I was lucky that was all that I was missing.

My parents responded in the same fair, reasonable, sensible manner that they always had when I got in trouble.  By my senior year of high school, they had a lot of experience.  They were both shocked, both relieved, both understood that I had luckily survived a very stupid event in my life.  They said that I would also be punished, basically was being grounded those two days of suspension.  My parents called up the parents of each girl, took me that evening to each of their houses, and I had to personally apologize to each girl.

There were a lot of events in my young life that I survived with little or no damage to my life or reputation.  Some might call that survival simple good fortune, some might call it an over qualified guardian angel, some might call it a God thing.  I call it being raised by two loving, common sense, committed parents who always have and will have my back — and that itself could be a God thing.  I have needed and always will need them.